I’ve been looking back over Steve Bissette’s blog (due to his linking to my old Vault article about D’arc Tangent a couple of times). His lament that 1963 will now definitely never be reprinted spurred me to dig out my back issues to see what all the fuss was about–“the fuss” being what was so great about the comic that they would work so hard to reprint it, not the issues that tanked the deal, which were personal and not the kind of thing I tend to spend a lot of time on.
The first thing to realize here is that there was no comic actually titled 1963. The series actually consisted of six differently-titled issues, each purporting to be a different issue of a Marvel-like line of comics published in 1963. The series was published by Image, and written by Alan Moore (who would apparently like it if his name was never again connected to it, but screw that) with art by a host of famous names, including Bissette, Rick Veitch, Dave Gibbons, Don Simpson (Megaton Man is still sealed deep in the Vault, but I may bust out some Border Worlds soon), Chester Brown (Yummy Fur, which you’ll never see here), Jim Valentino, and an uncredited Murphy Anderson doing colors.
The first issue, cover-dated April 1993, is titled Mystery Incorporated. And in the first scene, everything has a very familiar vibe.
This is so much like those early Lee/Kirby issues of books like Fantastic Four that it almost hurts. The layouts, the anonymous intruder navigating a series of deathtraps for reasons unknown, the note-perfect dialogue–it’s parody, and yet too perfectly spot-on to be parody.
And it’s important to note at this point that, like other Alan Moore projects like Watchmen and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the project does not stop with comics. Each issue features a letters page in the style of early Marvel (with made-up fan letters, though some come from famous names like Diana Schutz and Neil Gaiman), a hype page pitching their other books written in the style of the old Stan Lee Soapbox, and even fake ads which take off on actual ads from the 60’s. It’s like reading actual comics from an alternate universe (which, not surprisingly, turns out to be a common theme in all the 1963 stories).
The intruder turns out to be The Planet, a member of a familiar-looking superteam called Mystery Incorporated, and he is, of course, just running the gauntlet to test their defenses and not coincidentally, show off how awesome the group is (since everybody takes part in the exercise). The team is a close facsimile of the Fantastic Four with a few tweaks here and there. But soon, they are dealing with an actual intruder who captures Kid Dynamo (our Human Torch stand-in).
One interesting thing to note is that our intruder just happens to be wearing the same costume as Superman-killer Doomsday, who was first introduced a few months earlier.
Anyway, investigation reveals that the intruder may be a time and/or dimension traveler who escapes into an alternate reality via the Maybe Machine with Kid Dynamo as his hostage, so the rest of the team follows.
The next issue was titled No One Escapes… The Fury! and detailed the adventures of a young acrobatic crimefighter, like a cross between early Spider-Man and pre-Frank Miller Daredevil. The Fury ends up fighting two menaces, one an old enemy called the Voidoid who has acquired weapons from the future (or perhaps an alternate future) which he uses to attack our hero, until a reanimated psychic dinosaur called the Warbeast shows up. The Fury ends up using Voidoid’s futuristic weapons to take down the monster, which gives Steve Bissette an excuse to draw an awesome dinosaur monster.
Issue three was Tales of the Uncanny, featuring two heroes in a shared book, like the early Marvel Tales to Astonish. In the lead feature, Captain America stand-in U.S.A. (Ultimate Secret Agent) prevents the assassination of the president in Dallas, with aid from a mysterious doppelganger of the would-be assassin (or patsy), Leo Harley Osborne. U.S.A. then saves Osborne from assassination by Brian Ruby, inserting himself into a famous historical photo in the process.
Brian Ruby turns out to be Communist supervillain Red Brain (a take-off on the Nazi Red Skull), and U.S.A. beats him with help from the mysterious Osborne doppelganger from the future. In the second story, the Hypernaut faces off against an enemy from the 4th Dimension (who can only be perceived in our reality as three-dimensional “slices”).
The next issue was another double-feature, Tales from Beyond, featuring the N-Man (a Hulk-like man-monster) and Johnny Beyond, a beatnik Doctor Strange. They were followed in issue five by Horus, Lord of Light, who leads a college coed on an awe-inspiring journey through the nether realms of Egyptian mythology in much the same way the Mighty Thor would visit Asgard from Earth.
The sixth and final issue brought the series full circle, as The Tomorrow Syndicate, an Avengers-like team-up of N-Man, Hypernaut, Horus, and U.S.A., along with Infra-Man and Infra-Girl, set off on a journey through the alternate realities of the Maybe Machine in a quest to rescue Mystery Incorporated, who disappeared back in issue one. And as they travel through the realities, they arrive at a nexus, where our 60’s Not-Marvel stars meet some 60’s Not-DC stars, before Veitch decides to stop being cute and just include some honest-to-goodness cameos from the DC and Marvel stars we know and love.
The 1963 Annotations page identifies Superman on the left with his death certificate (since Superman had just suffered his much-publicized “death” a few months before) and Swamp Thing on the right, but the fellow second-in-line on the right, with the domino mask and widow’s peak, could well be The Comedian from Watchmen (in his younger days), while the fellow back in line on the left with the black body and glowing yellow/red face is The One, a former Veitch character covered in a previous Vault.
Finally, our heroes pick up the trail of Mystery Incorporated and follow it to discover the mysterious intruder from issue one.
And see, here’s the thing: for six issues, we’ve been following all these disparate adventures with their references to time travel and alternate universes, and we know that it must be building to something. Moore, Bissette and Veitch are not hacks; there’s got to be something deeper at work here, a final revelation that will give us something more meaningful than “we spent six issues slavishly parodying 60’s Marvel comics because, well, you bought ’em, didn’t you?”
And in the final panel, we get that revelation. Our mysterious intruder is…
That dude is Shaft from Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood, with other Image Comics characters on the video screens behind him. The big revelation of all the alternate universe stuff is that the 1963 characters are all going to cross over and meet with the rest of the notoriously-badly-written Image Comics universe? Seriously?
Alas, yes, although it never happened. I’m not going to go into the reasons, but I shed no tears over never seeing that book. I wasn’t buying the rest of Image’s line for a reason, you know.
Good news is, due to a contractual agreement between the partners, Bissette has rights to some of the characters of the 1963 line and is planning at some point still (I think) to bring out new comics with the characters,